Have you ever heard of a food memory? Even if you haven’t, you surely have food memories of your own. To put it lightly, a food memory is when a certain food sparks a memory in your mind. Perhaps it’s ice cream from your favorite scoop shop that you used to visit during the summer as a kid. Maybe it’s an amazing pasta dish you had on your honeymoon in Italy.
For me, it’s Little Debbie’s snack cakes. Specifically, Swiss Rolls, Nutty Buddies, and Zebra Cakes. My grandma used to serve me one of these sugar bombs everyday after school. We’d play cards at her kitchen table and chat. Nowadays, anytime I see, smell, or taste those treats, I’m instantly transported back to those happy memories.
So why do we have these memories? In this article, we’ll dig into what food memories are, why they’re so strong, and why they matter.
What is a food memory?
Food memories are memories which are closely intertwined with a certain food. Once the memory is formed, the smell and taste of that food will prompt your brain to remember the first time you ate that food, where you were and what was going on around you. For some, just thinking of the food will bring you back to that initial moment – however smell and taste will transport you back into that memory much more powerfully.
Food memories are also sometimes referred to as food nostalgia. Do you ever eat something, perhaps from your childhood, and suddenly feel a deep sentimental longing for those memories? In this way, food can nudge you into wistful reflection of the past.
In an article in Psychology Today called “What Your Earliest Food Memories Say About You” by Susan Krauss Whitebourne Ph.D. In this article she discusses how everybody has childhood memories involving food and, even if we don’t realise it, these memories have affected how we are as adults. She talks about a study by Elisabeth von Essen and Fredrika Mårtensson, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, that explored the correlation between early food memories and resilience in adulthood. Whitebourne states that “the Swedish team believed that the positive associations between food and family help establish a strong base on which future coping skills are built.” They also believe that our memories of food also affect how we choose our relationships and that the way we spend food-related times with our partners “defines a key element of [our] relationships”. This is not just in how you spend your time together in a relationship, as food can be a big part of that, but more into the sense of security in the relationship. In the article, Whitebourne explains that “Attachment theory, the framework adopted by the authors, proposes that the “secure base” you form in infancy provides you with the greatest resilience toward the challenges you face as you develop into adulthood and beyond.” This is really interesting to see how much of an affect this childhood food memories can have and how they can really shape our future.
Why do we have food memories?
Our senses control how we perceive the world and how we form memories. The sense of smell is most closely tied with memory. Smell is also highly emotive, which is why the perfume industry is so successful. People with loss of smell even report that they notice a “‘blunting’ of emotions.” This link between smell, emotion, and memory is what creates food memories. In fact, smell makes up 80% of what we taste. With smell and memory tied so closely together, food becomes a gateway to memories. The taste, smell, and even texture of food can bring back memories of eating the same food in the past, plus the place and setting you were in.
How can you use food memories to your advantage?
Now that you know how closely food and memory are linked, you have an opportunity. While you can’t change past food memories, good or bad – you can control future ones. Do you ever find yourself in a moment where you wish you could take a mental photo? With food memories, you might be able to do so. If you catch yourself in a moment where you’re enjoying a meal or a snack and you know you want to capture that memory, slow down. Take time to really smell and taste your food. Enjoy the present moment you’re in, and let it all soak in. You just might be in the middle of creating a food memory.
What are your favorite food memories from childhood? 😊 Leave a comment below and let us know! If you’re looking to create some new food memories of your own, check out our blog on the five most cozy restaurants in Helsinki.